Sunday, January 10, 2010

Olga's Story Part 1

We’re at a sidewalk table in front of Sam’s Café, the three of us, as usual. It’s warm, almost still hot. Our three black chairs, and a fourth vacant, surround the small metal table a little too crowded against the weekenders here that come to our main street on afternoons like these.

Luke is in fine fettle, and I shoot Barry a quick sly smile. Luke pantomimes the position of the motorcycles with his hands; held like knives in the air, leaning this way and that. He’s showing how earlier we had come against the chain of Harley riders just before approaching the best section of the mountain pass.

He’s becoming more excited now, the pressure of the whole situation: the potential for oncoming traffic to ruin things, how it all must go just right, judging their lean and hoping they would run wide so we could cut inside them and continue our morning unabated run by their rolling roadblock.

Having only two hands but explaining the location of many things in space Luke is pointing into the air all around him, recreating our run up the mountain in a small invisible world hovering above the empty fourth chair between us and the tourists on the street.

Luke and Barry and I have become older men than we once were, but somehow wear the role of middle aged men costumes. Luke has recently taken to waxed cotton gear and looking, somehow, “weathered”.

I look beyond them, not really hearing the story anymore, now watching he broad pink light reflect off the stained glass of the cathedral. Still, Luke is good at this physical story telling. I can see the whole road this morning as he has painted it in the air. I can feel the tension in his body, setting up the long chain of bikers for the pass. His hands whirr becoming the knife edged leaning motorcycles, then his hands are on the throttle and clutch, then pointing out obstacles or drawing curves for these ephemeral bikes to motor though.

He rubs his fingers together to show us sand, or covers the back of his palm his other hand for leaves. We are mesmerized. Even though both Barry and I were there this morning here we are there again, heroes nostalgic for a recent past and reliving it now.

At last, Luke gets to the pass, he pantomimes the three bikers lining up and running impossibly wide in the right hand sweeping turn. Barry and I both smile as he show us by creating a broad blocking arc with his left arm, as if to hug a round friend, he traces a quick arc inside this with his right hand. Us, streaking by heroically!

He rises from his chair, lips sputtering lips in pantomime motorcycle sound and hands on the bar, his left showing the upshifts as we shoot past. Now we’re running hot into the next corners, things are falling apart. Luke continues to point it objects in the air his hands and us as motorcycles knifing though the imagined landscape.

He hooks of foot around the empty chair he has risen from and, either in a moment of brilliance or clumsiness hurls it into the stream of sidewalk tourists before him. It clatters creating space for him to continue his story unabated and now frantic.

We had been frustrated, trapped behind the bikers, and now rushed headlong into the pass. Luke reaches out with cupped hands into the arc of tourists the chair has created and says quietly to them “a rabbit, you see, a little bunny, in the road” the tourists are immediately taken in. He’s now got a fake British accent, “my mates and I were going too fast on our motorbikes this morning, when at rabbit should appear on the road” and explains the pile up. Barry running a great distance on his front wheel, me into the woods, him slewing wildly and the silence thereafter.

The Harley riders, dispatched with great pomp moments before now parade past us serenely. The police await, fruitlessly, around the next bend

Luke, satisfied with his story rights his chair and sits down. The tourist, so taken in moments ago are a bit slow to leave. Nobody says anything for a moment or two. Barry lights a cigarette, the gap created by Luke’s antic closes up and the tourist continue in their stream to where ever they go. We look at out bikes parked at the curb.

After a time I say, “let me tell you boys a story as unlikely as it is true, of an old woman, a great love and a motorcycle” I close my eyes and again find myself in Olga Sleutin’s world. For a moment I just sit eyes closed there on the street with my friends, but in her cold room this springtime, on the third floor, above the garden.

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